Born: Dec 13, 1933 in Brooklyn, NY
Died: October 18, 2012 in New York, NY
Styles: Avant-Garde, Free Jazz, Avant-Garde Jazz
Early in his career, it was typical for jazz critics to compare the extraordinary free jazz pianist Borah Bergman to Cecil Taylor. Lately, however, critics now regularly point out the folly in such comparisons, perpetuating the very same juxtaposition, instead of listening to Bergman abstracted from such concerns. Though Bergman himself claims Tristano, Monk, and Powell as influences, he rates comparison with nobody, so singular is his ability as an improvising pianist. Bergman has perhaps the most comprehensive technique of any jazz musician on any instrument. His facility is nonpareil with both hands. Bergman can improvise spontaneous free counterpoint at unfathomable speeds and with remarkable precision. His utterly personal style is due in no small part to his own technical innovations; no pianist in the history of jazz has ever developed more speed and agility in his left hand. Additionally, Bergman has refined a technique of playing with crossed hands that augments his fluency to an even greater degree. Bergman's greatest attributes are, however, the staggering quality and quantity of his ideas, and the ineffable intensity with which he executes those ideas. Bergman is of a kind with the very greatest jazz musicians in terms of originality and inspiration. The only reason now to weigh him against Cecil Taylor is to place the two artists on the same level of creative accomplishment.
Bergman played clarinet as a child, but didn't begin on piano until in his twenties. Bergman determined right away that he wanted to develop an individual voice. As he told the writer Francis Davis, "I knew there was no point in sounding almost as good as Bud Powell." The right-handed Bergman worked for years in strengthening his left hand. For a time, he practiced playing left-handed almost exclusively. Eventually - as a pianist, at least - he became ambidextrous.
Bergman began recording late as well. His first four albums were solo efforts; the first, Discovery, was released in 1975 on the Chiaroscuro label. Three more would follow, including 1983's A New Frontier and 1985's Upside Down Visions, both on Soul Note. In 1992, the pianist began a series of successful duo collaborations. The first was Inversions on the Muworks label, with the young free-bop altoist Thomas Chapin. Following that came a pair of Soul Note albums that cemented Bergman's reputation, 1993's The Human Factor with drummer Andrew Cyrille, and '94's The Fire Tale, with soprano saxophonist Evan Parker. The latter album was especially powerful, matching as it did two of the most formidable improvisers in jazz. Recent albums include a duo/trio recording with saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell and vocalist Thomas Buckner, a trio with saxophonists Peter Brotzman and Thomas Borgmann, and another trio with Brotzman and Cyrille. As the '90s draw to a close, Bergman's recorded output continues to rise substantially, as does his profile as one of the music's major contributors.
-Chris Kelsey (All Music Guide)